Friday, August 08, 2003

Hizbullah and Syria are set up
I'll be posting a link to my Daily Star commentary on the subject tomorrow, but as some of you may have heard, there was fighting in southern Lebanon today, specifically in the Shebaa Farms area. Hizbullah bombed Israeli positions, and Israel retaliated with aerial bombardments and artillery fire.

The U.S. reaction to this, according to the Associated Press, was as follows: "The Bush administration responded angrily Friday to Hezbollah's shelling of Israeli positions in a disputed Lebanese border region.

"American diplomats told Lebanon and Syria that the administration was seriously concerned about what a U.S. official described as a "calculated and provocative escalation'' by the extremist group and told the two Arab governments it was important to restrain further attacks."

I'm not one to defend Hizbullah very often, but the fact is the party was magnificently set up. It didn't initiate the fighting out of the blue; it was reacting to a car-bomb assassination--almost surely organized by Israel--of a Hizbullah member last Saturday in Beirut's southern suburbs. My theory is that the Israelis killed the man in order to provoke precisely the response that came today.

Why? Because too quiet a south Lebanon border was drawing American attention precariously away from Hizbullah and Syria. With both the Sharon government and Washington hawks keen to push Syria into a corner--if not worse--and disarm Hizbullah, it simply wasn't convincing anymore to blame Syria and the party even as they scrupulously adhered to a de facto ceasefire in the border area. So they were provoked, and by retaliating did exactly what Israel wanted them to.

Now the U.S. is again demanding that Syria end its support for Hizbullah, even as the U.S. Congress is contemplating voting on a piece of legislation known as the Syria Accountability and Lebanese Sovereignty Restoration Act of 2003.

That leads to a wider question: since May 2000, when the Israelis pulled out of Lebanon, the Shebaa Farms has been used by Hizbullah and Syria as a pressure point on Israel. Now, with a friendly administration in the U.S., Israel has turned the tables, so that any kind of fighting there can now be used to build up the American case against Hizbullah and Syria.

The party and Syria were set up a week ago. That's surely unfair, since they had effectively ceased to attack Israeli troops beforehand. The only solution, however, is for them to abandon the farms option altogether and send the Lebanese Army to the border area. That was the Lebanese aim back in 1978 after the Israeli occupation started, and it was implicitly embodied in U.N. Security Council resolution 425, demanding an Israeli pullout from Lebanon.

There is no reason for the measure not to implemented now, with the Israelis gone.

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